The way we talk can be a dead giveaway that we’re from elsewhere.
Google the phrase “pop vs. soda,” and you’ll ﬁnd color-coded maps that divide the country like election night results. Test this research on the road and you’ll discover that there are haters out there who scorn the term “pop” when unsuspecting out-of-towners (like me) order ﬁzzy beverages.
If you are a “pop” person in a particularly fragile state of mind, you might even be tempted to avoid ridicule by downloading one of the maps and adjusting your word choice based on the region you’re traveling through.
Most likely few of us will decide to take this extreme measure. But the truth is, we do choose our words differently, depending on who we’re talking to. If I’m going to tell someone the story of my terrible weekend, it’s going to be edited differently if I’m describing it to my mother or my best friend or my pastor.
Which leads to a fun way to help young writers learn something about the nuances of dialogue. At some point while your students are working on a story, ask them to write three scenes that draw on their story. Each scene should be a dialogue-heavy exchange that involves the main character talking with one other person about the conﬂict that the main character is facing.
But in each of the three scenes, the person that the main character is speaking to will change. First, it will be a parent, teacher, or some kind of authority ﬁgure. Then, it will be their best friend or someone they trust. Finally, it will be someone they don’t like—a sworn enemy, or someone they perceive to be a rival.
Depending on the age of your young writers, you might have to give them additional help with this activity. But the goal is for them to recognize that people choose what they say—and what they leave unsaid—in part based on the identity of their listener.
Just like a “pop” person might choose to masquerade as a “soda” person when they really want to ﬁt in with the locals.